The tribals are facing several serious problems. The major among these is their poor economic condition. As they have no regular source of earning a living, most of the tribals lead a life of poverty and destitution a majority of them live below the poverty line. As they lead a nomadic life, their children do not get formal education. As such most of the tribals do not acquire the basic skills to get employment in the nearby cities. They do not have adequate finance to start their own small ventures.
The banks are not prepared to lend them because they keep on moving around from place to place and have no permanent residence. Most of the tribal people do not own any tract of land for cultivation. At times they go for farming on public fallow land which often does not give a good yield, depending entirely on rain. Sometimes the local administrators and officials drive them away from that land.
It is extremely hard for the tribals to make both ends meet. They do casual labour in nearby towns and cities; they make certain goods-tools implements by farmers and sell from village to village to get some food grains, clothes and other articles of use. The respective state governments as well as the central government have done little to provide employment to the tribals and lift them from poverty. Whatever has been done is either not reaching them due to inherent corruption, or is so little that it has failed to bring any perceptible change in the lives of the tribals.
The other major problem faced by our tribals is that they have not been rehabilitated at proper places where they have access to water, sanitation, transportation and other facilities necessary for their growth. They are still wandering from place to place. India is developing very fast. Many new industries under Special Economic Zone (SEZ) scheme or otherwise are being set up in several states. As large tracts of land are acquired to set up big projects, thousands of local people are displaced from those and nearby areas. Many tribals are included in these Project Affected Families (PAFs) as they are called these days. Since these people do not have land rights and are mere settlers in the area, they are not eligible for compensation.
The law ignores that they are the citizens of this country. Rehabilitating them in a proper manner is the responsibility of the government. Facing hunger and starvation, many of these PAFs including the tribals have several times shown anger and violent protests. But the state machinery does not hesitate to use force to disperse them. In Andhra Pradesh, many such protestors were killed when police opened fire. There were protests at many places against this heinous act. Mass media like TV and newspapers criticized the act. An enquiry was ordered into the incident. But the problem of the rehabilitation of the tribals still remains as it is. The government has brought a new Rehabilitation Policy, in October 2007. Let us see if it is able to bring some change in the life of the displaced people.
Another serious problem relating to our tribals is that they still lead an underdeveloped and primitive life. The benefits of India’s fast economic development have not reached them. Their children do not go to school, they don’t afford to have two square meals everyday, they don’t have adequate means to save themselves from the vagaries of nature-cold weather, hot sun, floods, heavy rain, and hurricanes that visit the eastern coasts of Andhra Pradesh where many tribals live. The tribals have no health care facilities. When they fall ill, they don’t go to any doctor for treatment but use herbs, etc. to cure themselves. Because of their poverty, they have no access to hospitals or clinics.
They don’t get any diagnostic facilities to detect the cause of serious illness. Facilities like surgery are a dream for them. If the general health standard of the tribals is not poor, it is only because they lead a life full of hard physical labour. But in conditions of disease, injury or disability, they suffer endlessly. The expectant mothers of tribal people do not get medical attention of nurses or doctors. They deliver their babies in their thatched huts with some elderly, experienced ladies helping them. They don’t have rich diet required during those days. Their babies do not get the required vaccination under any immunisation programme.
The tribal people have their own traditions, art and culture. The Gonds of Chhattisgarh are adept in the art of making mural paintings. They make beautiful pictures of natural scenes, trees, birds, and animals like tiger, elephant, and camel on the mud walls of their houses. They make them with great passion. Some of these murals are highly symbolic. The painting of two feet symbolise dance, birds symbolise freedom. It is actually a matter of regret that such great art of the tribals has not been spread across the country. The exponents of this art are not brought before the people nor are they given any awards or incentives to develop this art.
The tribals have their dance, music and folklore. The bamboo dance of the eastern states is very famous. Their music is sweet, charming and soothing to the ears. The theme of their songs is love and bravery of their ancestors. The tribals have their legends which tell about their rulers and their ventures. The tribals are highly religious people. They worship many gods and goddesses. Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati are worshipped by many tribals.
They have their rituals and festivals which they celebrate with great pump and show. The marriages are special and colourful occasions for all the tribals. The ceremonies are performed in open space. People wear colourful dresses and dance around a tree which is specially erected at a proper place. This rich culture and customs of the tribals are a part of India’s cultural diversity. The government should make special plans to develop the tribal traditions, folklore, music, etc.
The tribals are self-respecting people. They are largely poor. They do casual labour, gather food like nomads in jungles, or make articles of use and sell them. But they never ask for any favour from anyone. We must recognize their needs and make efforts to fulfill them. The tribals must be developed so that they become a part of India’s mainstream and contribute to the country’s social, economic and cultural development.